Dealing with Injury Positively… in 8 Steps

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It can be so frustrating to find yourself on the injury bench. As runners, we love to run. When we are prevented from running, it can be hard to take. Sometimes we also know the injury was due to our own over-enthusiasm in training, which feels like harsh punishment for good effort.

Even worse, when runners are fed up, what we most want to do is go for a run… but we can’t.

It can be difficult to explain to friends and family who don’t run why this situation is so depressing, without sounding over-dramatic. The chances of sympathy diminish more if we don’t manage to stop ourselves complaining about it on a regular basis.

So it’s time to turn things around! Injury happens. What matters is how we deal with it. Here are eight steps for staying positive and proactive when injury strikes…

1. Accept it

Last year I was in the best shape of my life and on target for a fast marathon. That’s when a stress fracture struck. I’d spent most of the previous year recovering from an operation on my foot, so I was gutted.

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I spent a few days in denial, trying to continue running just in case it would miraculously disappear. It didn’t.

So I decided on a line of action.

First, I accepted it.

Second, I allowed myself to feel thoroughly fed up for a day. Properly miserable.

Third, the next day I took my training plan down from the wall, turned it over and wrote “Reasons To Be Cheerful About My Running Injury” on the back. I wrote down all the things I was grateful for, all the things I could be proud of, confident about, or had to look forward to. (I’m going to share it – see image…!)

This helped me to turn myself around and start to think positively.

2. Get a little perspective

OK it’s frustrating. It’s upsetting. But it’s important not to lose perspective about a running injury.

Even if you have a bad injury from running, it’s not life-threatening.

If you manage it well, look after yourself, and follow the advice from your physio, you’re likely to be back to running soon. And you’ll be a stronger and wiser runner from having been through the experience and better able to understand your body (and your breaking point!).

3. Get good advice

Your first step to recovery is to understand the problem properly. Get advice from a physiotherapist or similar trained professional as soon as possible. They will be well-placed to assess you properly and identify the cause of the problem, treat it and give you advice on recuperation.

They will also be able to guide you on the amount of time you are likely to need off running, and whether you can do any other sport in the meantime (e.g. swimming).

Be wary of googling! There is so much misinformation on the internet, and it’s often challenging to distinguish good from bad content. Avoid self-diagnosis based on what you read on websites, as well as trying to base your own injury recovery on what other runners on forums might say about how long you need and what to do. Your injury is unique to you, and could have very different characteristics… which is why a professional will be able to help you consider your own individual needs.

4. Make a recovery plan

Think about what you CAN do rather than what you can’t.

Do what you can to try to stay in shape. It will make it easier to return to running if you are able to continue with some form of exercise or strength work in the meantime. For example, if you can swim that’s a great way to keep up cardiovascular fitness without the impact of running.

This does depending on the nature of your injury. Sometimes complete rest might be the quickest way to recover. Again, a physio will be best placed to advise you.

Any strength and conditioning work you can do will be very helpful, including any specific exercises your physio has recommended. Try to allocate some of your usual running time to doing core strength work.

5. Use new-found time productively

Feel positive by doing something with your extra time freed up by not running.

For example, you could give something back by volunteering at races and for your club.

Or consciously use the time when you would be running for something else that feels productive or valuable to you.

As suggested under point 4, use some of your running time for alternative exercise and strength work, so you can stay as strong and fit as possible.

6. Keep in touch with running friends

Sometimes injury can feel isolating as well, because you may have running friends who you don’t see at other times. But now it’s easier than ever to keep in touch with friends via social media.

Go to races too and cheer running friends along – your support will be hugely appreciated and hopefully returned at a future race when you need support.

You might find that running friends are also likely to be more understanding and sympathetic about your injury than anyone else. They totally understand the misery of injury – most of us have been through it, or at least understand how frustrating it would be not to be able to run. So find ways to socialise with your running mates. Chances are, when you’re back to running, you’ll be returning the favour for one of them who needs to drown their injury sorrows with tea-and-sympathy (or a pint) at some point in the future.

7. Be proactive to prevent it happening again

Do your best to think about the cause of the injury. Your physio will be important with this too, as they will help you to identify weaknesses that may be further up the body but cause added pressure through muscles and tendons which could result in an injury in a very different place from the source of the problem.

For example, stiffness in the lower back, or lack of mobility around the hip flexors and pelvis, or over-reliance on the quads versus the hamstring… any of these could result in over-reliance on your calf muscles which could be the cause of plantar fasciitis, Achilles problems, shin splints, stress fractures in the lower leg/foot or calf strains.

Look back at how you were training too. If you had a sudden increase in training load, it could have led to injury. Or if you were feeling excessively tired, you may have been vulnerable to something going wrong.

It’s also important to check your shoes. Worn out shoes, or shoes that don’t suit your gait, can cause problems. It’s helpful to go to a specialist running shop with a treadmill to get gait analysis and find shoes that really work for you.

8. Make your comeback strong, slow and sensible!

Take the time you need before returning to running, and resist the temptation to rush back. How soon you’ll be able to return is dependent on the injury you’ve had as well as your training background and your individual physical variables… so there is no right or wrong answer. But if you come back too soon you could end up hurting yourself again and taking longer overall before you are running properly again.

Resume sensibly – don’t expect to jump right back in to the type of weekly training you were doing previously. It’s important to build up gradually, making sure your injury doesn’t get aggravated, and giving yourself a chance to rebuild fitness.

Any strength work or cross training you’ve done will now pay dividends!

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